Dish Buzz: Barbuto

Posted in Food by Lara, December 26, 2008 To celebrate a friend’s recent graduation from the French Culinary Institute, we made reservations at the Chef’s Table at Barbuto. This allows you to sit in front of the kitchen area and watch the meal being prepared. The meal is three to four courses served family style, highlighting some of the best selections off of their regular menu. Once we sat down, I would say the courses sort of blended together. I would classify it as four courses appetizers, pastas, main course, and dessert. We glanced over to see them throwing together the salad. It was a frisee salad, with a lemon vinaigrette, shaved fennel, cucumber, radishes, and what seemed to be a smattering of apples. It was very light, but an interesting combination. It was the vinaigrette and fennel which made the salad. We were also served a fantastic bruchetta, which was bread topped by fresh creamy chunks of goat cheese and butternut squash. They were mixed with walnuts, rosemary, and chives and were atop a fresh wild arugula salad. Our final appetizer was fresh foccacia with prosciutto. I was actually disappointed with this offering. The foccacia was generic as was the prosciutto… but the other two options made up for this one falling short. I had to remind myself there was another hearty course to come as the pasta was paraded out. I’m usually indifferent to gnocchi. Like many pastas, it’s often dry, too chewy, and lacking in flavor. I would say that the gnocchi here was probably the best part of the meal. Highly unexpected. It was simplistic as well. It was gnocchi together with kale which had been sautéed in nothing more than butter. It was topped off by fresh parmesan cheese. Gnocchi here? It’s a must do. The other pasta dish was good (but it was no gnocchi…). It was a nice rigatoni a la bolognese, featuring a very light meat sauce. They took an interesting approach for the main course, opting for one selection each of meat, poultry, and fish. They are known for their chicken dish, served with a fresh salsa verde. The chicken was very juicy and tender. The sauce was simplistic yet flavorful, comprised of parsley, oregano, tarragon, olive oil, capers, and anchovies. One more likely to prefer chicken, I found myself most impressed by the skirt steak, which was paired with a shallot vinaigrette and a light parmesan cheese sauce. The meat was thinly sliced and was cooked to a perfect level to highlight the flavor. The third option, spigola, just seemed to get lost

in the mixed. A dish of fried Chilean sea bass served with leeks confit, it was just too bland to be placed on the table alongside the chicken and skirt steak. The effort at a diverse mixture though was appreciated. With the main course, we were served a side of beets and ricotta salata. The vegetables were a nice accent to the meats, save the fish (again, that poor fish). We also had a side of fresh polenta. A fan of polenta, I found theirs particularly fresh and well-done, nice and moist with just the right additional accent of herbs. For dessert, we received a very simple coffee cup filled with chocolate pudding and served with a small square of lemon pound cake. It was very good. I’ll own up to having been quite full by this point in the meal, so I really didn’t need more. However seeing as I am such a dessert afficionado, I was disappointed that this was the only course that did not have multiple offerings. My sweet tooth? It felt highly neglected. The most interesting thing though about dining at Barbuto was getting to watch the dance that was the meal preparation. Unlike most kitchens where if you walk by you will likely hear many voices as the coordinate the preparation, this kitchen was one of silence - broken only by sizzling food or whisks in motion. There were typically three different people working on the food preparation at any given time and they were working together on each given piece. But they didn’t talk. One would be mixing ingredients with another whisking away in their corner and somehow like magic, they would meet in the middle at the exact same point in time to throw in their contributions to pull together the one dish. It was perfectly choreographed. No orders called out. Only small slips of paper with writing set down gently upon the countertop. Seeing that alone to me was worth the $60 per person price tag (no drink included). And what a tasty dance it was. Barbuto -775 Washington Street (at West 12th Street) - 212.924.9700 - Reservations Recommended

Dish Buzz: Belcourt
Posted in Food by Lara, February 18, 2009 There are few restaurants in New York City where you really feel like you are somewhere else. Sure, there are quite a few where if you were to close your eyes, you could easily be anywhere else, but Belcourt fits into the first category. It really feels like you are in Paris. Certainly not the East Village. We arrived at noon on Saturday, and watched as the restaurant began to fill up quickly around us. There was a mixed crowd - young families, young professionals, you name it. We started with an order of their fresh buttermilk biscuits. The biscuits were absolutely fantastic. They were warm and fresh and had almost a creamy taste about them. They were served drizzled with local honey, ricotta and fresh preserves. Take a look at the menu and you’ll see two interesting items sprinkled regularly throughout the menu - local honey and ricotta. The honey here was subtle and I found the ricotta, when mixed with the preserves, a better compliment to the biscuits than butter could have dared to be. (I know, blasphemy for a Southerner.) However, $7 for two small biscuits? Belcourt needs to rethink this, as that’s a bit of a rip-off. They have an interesting mix of unique brunch drinks from which you can choose. Our drink was champagne along with elderflower essence. I daresay it’s the best brunch drink I’ve had. It was unique and just perfect. Sometimes the OJ seems to overpower a mimosa and sometimes champagne straight is just too much. The elderflower essence was the perfect compliment. Their drinks in general range in price from $8$9, although watch your bill. Ours was charged incorrectly based on the menu prices, something they were very kind in rectifying. For my main course, I went with their Vanilla and Bourbon French Toast. It came served with their house made ricotta and maple syrup (local New York state made, of course). The bourbon influence here was subtle in comparison to the heavier vanilla presence. The French Toast was soft without being soggy. It was pretty darn perfect. While I was doubtful again on the ricotta, I have to say after a ricotta-heavy brunch that I’m officially a convert. Amazing. My friend said her order of shirred eggs, which included mushrooms, spinach,

maple cured bacon, manchego cheese, and grilled bread was okay, but not amazing. Not usually a French Toast fan, she said she’d much rather have ordered what we did. I have to say I agree. I’d be curious to come back and try their dinner offerings. They also have an oyster happy hour, if that’s your thing! Belcourt - 84 East 4th St (at 2nd Avenue) - 212.979.2034 - Reservations available for dinner only. Brunch is first come, first serve.

Lara Ruth /
   Food writer … blogger … photographer … memoirist Food column writer for Neighborbee blog since August 2008 Please contact if interested in a writer for freelance – currently open for opportunities